My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is an excellent show. I love it to the point that I am writing fan works for it, and one of those works is going to be one of my major projects. One of the things I most love about it is its multilayered nature; the vigilant viewer can analyze it and uncover a much deeper world and cast than would first be apparent.
I think that MLP: FiM is perhaps the best base for fan fiction ever made because of this enormous hidden depth. I’m a very well-read individual, and it has some of the best characters I’ve ever seen. There are almost no limits to the possibilities of its vibrant world. It’s episodic, so you can make a lot of stories that have few limitations but still don’t conflict with the show’s cannon. It’s a storyteller’s dream.
However, it is generally understood within the MLP fanfic community that there are some limits as to what a writer can say without breaking the established rules of the show. Most notably, that at a certain level of darkness a fic is no longer plausible within the show’s world. After all, this world is very much a Sugar Bowl; the most powerful magic is friendship, and evil will always ultimately fall to it. And sure, there are evil things in this show- but never too evil. After all, it’s a kid’s show- they’d never have anything truly horrific in it. Works like Story of the Blanks, Fallout: Equestria, and Cupcakes would of course never happen or even be implied to happen in the show… right?
A warning to fellow fans of the show: as you can probably tell, I’m planning on using those three darkfics as reference during this article. If you don’t want to hear about things like that or fear that the show will be “Ruined Forever” for you because of me, I suggest you leave now.
With that said, here we go.
I would argue that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is, in fact, one of the darkest shows you’ll ever see. I think the likes of Story of the Blanks and Cupcakes in fact wouldn’t be at all out of place within the world of show (not taking into account Out-of-Character behavior, of course). Will we ever see anything like those fics air on the show itself? No. However, once again, this show rewards the observant. I believe one of the things you’ll find if you pay attention is the truly bleak underbelly this show bears. Though this show superficially appears to be nothing more than a literal cheery, colorful world of rainbows and unicorns, the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) hints and implications steadily reveal the setting to be a tremendously disturbing crapsaccharine world whose damaged characters and vile villains could give Madoka Magica a run for its money.
To begin our plunge into the darkness, let’s begin with the protagonists themselves. Each of the Mane Six is deeply screwed up in their own unique ways. Here they are:
Twilight Sparkle herself is a stress-drinker. In the first episode of the show, she immediately attempts to pour herself a drink from a bottle bearing the image of a bubbling cocktail. She does this because Pinkie and the others have been bothering her ever since she arrived.
Twilight also has an obsession with pleasing Princess Celestia that borders on madness. In the third episode of the second season (which occurs immediately after her encounter with Discord, suggesting psychological trauma) she is literally so disturbed by the complete lack of problems in Ponyville that in a panic she creates one by enchanting her old doll so that it becomes an “apple of discord,” causing all who see it to fight over it. She does all of this so that she won’t be late in her “friendship lessons” assignment.
Rainbow Dash is obsessed with apple cider to the point that she seems to have an addiction to it. She’s also dangerously cocky to the point that her risk-taking has almost costed her her life a few times.
There’s also the fact that she lives in Ponyville, despite having a deep love for Cloudsdale, and is not a Wonderbolt, despite the fact that she desperately wants to be and is the fastest Pegasus in the world. I believe that the reason for both of these things is because Rainbow Dash is a lesbian (I’ll explain my reasoning for this in another article) and she’s actively eschewed both her hometown and her dream job because other Pegasi are extremely intolerant of homosexuals, which would seem to be consistent with their highly competitive and hierarchical nature.
I think it’s interesting that Fluttershy, who is Rainbow Dash’s friend, has also moved to Ponyville from Cloudsdale. I also find it interesting that while they were in Cloudsdale they were friends at all, considering the enormous dissonance between their personalities and interests. I’ve also noticed that Fluttershy seems to be the most cynical of the group; despite her shy and passive nature, when she’s really pushed she demonstrates a rather abrasive and bitter side. This is particularly noticeable in Putting Your Hoof Down, where she viciously verbally attacks Pinkie and Rarity with such effectiveness that they’re driven to tears, and the insults’ poignancy heavily suggests that both they and Fluttershy at least partially believe the insults she’s hurling at them.
I believe that there is a reason for both Fluttershy’s strange friendship with Rainbow as well as her deep cynicism: she’s gay too, and due to the resulting shunning by her fellow Pegasi she naturally bonded with Rainbow since Rainbow was one of the only ones who would accept her. I also think she grew more cynical than Rainbow because while Rainbow was able to win some respect from their peers through her athletic prowess, Fluttershy had no such asset at her disposal, and therefore she ended up getting it worse than Rainbow did.
Applejack is deeply repressed and emotionally dysfunctional. She sees it as a world-shattering descent into eternal shame to fail at any task, be it wining rodeos or bucking all the apples from her orchard by herself. For a specific example, when she fails at winning money for the town in a rodeo, she runs away from home and vows never to come back until she has the money she promised. My sureness of her emotional dysfunction is further solidified by Tanks for the Memories, where she is said to cry “on the inside” but implied not to do so openly. As any psychologist can tell you, this isn’t very healthy, since we need to cry sometimes.
I suggest that the reason for her repression is her family; I think that the Apples are very, very traditionally orthodox and as a result are dysfunctional and repressed as a general rule. One way I think this manifests is a family taboo on miscegenation with non-Earth ponies. Consider the Flim Flam brothers. All signs point to them being Apples; they have green eyes, red and white manes, apples for cutie marks, and are in the apple agricultural business, all of which are characteristic of the Apple family. Furthermore, when they are first introduced in Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 and are first shown to meet Granny Smith, they don’t have to ask her name; they know her already.
The one thing that sets them apart from other Apples is that they’re Unicorns, which leads me to believe that they were estranged by their family (as Unicorns are incapable of bucking apple trees properly, which is what all Apples are expected to do) and have subsequently set out to prove their family wrong (and get poetic revenge on them) by beating them out of the apple business in spite of and because of their Unicorn powers. This would also explain why they came to Ponyville specifically twice, despite the fact that they were run out by Ponyville’s citizens the first time they came.
Rarity is overly concerned with her standing in society’s favor and is very emotionally manipulative. She literally excused herself from Twilight’s birthday party for the sole purpose of remaining in the Canterlot elite’s good graces (and when it’s in danger she starts stress-drinking, as well). She also has a tendency to use her tremendously good looks to get what she wants from others. Not only does she without hesitation charm stranger Stallions out of anything of theirs she might desire, but I strongly suspect she does so to her friends as well; assuming Fluttershy is in fact gay, I think it’s not too great a leap to suppose that Rarity utilized Fluttershy’s attraction to her to pressure Fluttershy into modeling for her (which, by the way, she knows fully well Fluttershy wants absolutely no part of).
But the most worrisome target of Rarity’s manipulations is Spike. First of all, I find it morally grey at best that Rarity would use Spike’s affections for her to manipulate him the way she does in the show. She more or less uses him as a personal serf (which Twilight arguably does as well, but at least in that case Twilight is feeding and housing him) without ever making clear that he has no real chance with her.
Except that perhaps Spike doesn’t have a practically nonexistent chance with Rarity after all. She does seem to lead him on a lot, but there are a few times when Rarity behaves in such a way that I suspect that there is some sincerity in her feigned interest in him after all. Most of these times, of course, occur in Secret of My Excess;
First, after Spike gives up a rare gem for her, she gives him a kiss on the cheek. Alright, innocent enough…
Second, Rarity proceeds to defend the gem with her life from an enormous dragon (who, though she doesn’t know at the time, is Spike, who at the time is unable to control himself) who will potentially eat her alive. Okay, that’s… a little much…
Third, when Spike transforms back into his baby dragon self and they fall through the sky, Spike attempts to make a Dying Declaration of Love. Rarity stops him halfway through and starts smilingly crying.
Fellow MLP fans, was I the only one who was really weirded out and more than a little creeped out when Rarity started crying? Did I mention that Rarity is a teenager and Spike is a child?
At last, we arrive at Pinkie Pie.
First of all, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I absolutely do not think that Pinkie would ever do anything like she does in Cupcakes. I think that she’s a very good pony who would be absolutely horrified at the very idea of doing anything like that. However, I think it’s useful as a reference because of a few specific facts about it: first, that it was published within a short time of Party of One, and second, that both Cupcakes and Party of One are based around the idea of Pinkie being psychologically disturbed.
The reason I find these two parallel facts so significant is because they indicate that the writers of both stories had a same basic interpretation of Pinkie’s character: that she is, on some level, mentally unwell. Not remotely to the level of Cupcakes, mind you, but unwell nonetheless. I argue that she has some form of depression, since she demonstrates some of the symptoms (swinging extremes in emotion, emotional immaturity, etc. [if you’re a qualified psychologist, feel free to point out any holes in my theory]). This would also be consistent with Pinkie being raised in what seems to be a rather repressed household (it is for this reason that I also argue that Maud is even more depressed than Pinkie; notice how she and Pinkie have extremely similar personalities when Pinkie loses her Cutie Mark in the first two episodes of Season Five). When Pinkie believes that she’s lost her friends in Party of One, she experiences an extremely disturbing lapse in sanity where she attempts to have a party in which her friends’ roles are filled by inanimate objects. And yes, I do mean extremely disturbing:
Let’s discuss the rest of the world and the side characters now.
First of all, the world is insanely dangerous. It has, among other things: malevolent, fire-breathing dragons; manticores; Cerberus; hydras; gargantuan bears; and ice-demon-horses that can freeze things alive. And yes, these things do attempt to kill other things. It never happens on-screen, of course, but still: a group of teenage dragons explicitly desire to smash some unhatched phoenix eggs. They explicitly want to kill them.
With regards to the rest of the characters, they’re explicitly shown to be realistically racist, classist, and otherwise bigoted towards groups of characters different from themselves. There’s also implied infidelity in the show; when Mr. and Mrs. Cake (both Earth ponies) have a pair of twins (a Unicorn and a Pegasus), the protagonists ask how the babies’ races differ from their parents. Mr. Cake replies that he had a great-grandfather who was a Unicorn and that Mrs. Cake had a great aunt’s second cousin twice removed who was a Pegasus, before desperately requesting assurance that that makes sense (for any not familiar with genetics or genealogy, his explanation is rubbish).
Of course, a show is only as bleak as it’s most wicked villains, so I’ve saved them for last. Precisely how horrible are My Little Pony’s villains? I actually doubt you could find villains more utterly evil and shockingly vile than these; they are collectively dishonest, manipulative, unpleasant, abusive, hypocritical, tyrannical, sadistic, sexually perverted, murderous, and torturous. Here is, in detail, what some of them have done:
Perhaps the least evil of the show’s major villains is Starlight Glimmer. However, she remains one of the most disturbing; she rules a cult town that claims all of its citizens to be “equal” through removing their cutie marks. It bears strong resemblances to concentration camps and real-life cults; whenever someone shows signs of possible dissent, Starlight locks them in a room with her propaganda blaring nonstop until they succumb back to submission. For added creepiness, the townsfolk all wear unnaturally large smiles at all times, and Starlight is simultaneously utterly hypocritical and seems disturbingly sincere about her belief that cutie marks cause disharmony; she secretly still has hers, though she seems to have convinced herself that without it her “perfect society” couldn’t exist (this is a real-life practice for cult leaders; the best way to get your followers to believe your lies is to make yourself believe them, too).
Next up is Sombra, who is a tyrannical overlord who the show’s creators have stated to be based on Sauron. He fully lives up to it; he enslaved the Crystal ponies and lives off of their pain and misery (and seems to gleefully enjoy it, too). He’s also killed onscreen by the main characters, by the way.
Next up is Tirek. First of all, he was imprisoned in the Equestrian Hell-equivelant prison Tartarus for many years. Rightfully so; once he escapes, he immediately begins draining ponies’ magical energies to increase his own power. He’s generally power-hungry and unpleasant, but the true extent of his vileness is Fridge Horror: whenever he takes ponies’ magic away, they immediately loose their abilities; Earth ponies loose their strength, Unicorns lose their spell casting, and Pegasi loose their flight. This of course logically means that some Pegasi fell helplessly from the sky to their deaths. We have no reason to believe Tirek would have saved them; he is shown to be a complete sociopath with no regard for others through his remorseless betrayal and mocking of Discord when he no longer served Tirek’s ends.
Next is Chrysalis. Aside from the fact that she attempted a hostile takeover of Canterlot to farm its citizens and feed on their love, she also imprisoned Cadence, attempted to goad Twilight into murdering her, and is heavily implied to have raped Shining Armor and be planning to do so again.
Rape. In My Little Pony. I’m dead serious. I know some of you might contest this, but honestly, they’re not even very subtle about it; first of all, why doesn’t Chrysalis just kill Shining? That would immediately solve her problem of the barrier he places around Canterlot, and then victory would quickly be hers. And it’s not like she’s not willing to kill ponies; once again, she attempted to get Twilight to kill Cadence. Chrysalis also tells Twilight that she can’t have her interfering with her plans for Shining. What other plans could she be referring to? Once again, if it was about her conquest, she could just kill him. There’s pretty much no doubt left by her song; (emphasis added) “No, I do not love the groom / In my heart there is no room / But I still want him to be all mine.”
Finally, we have Discord. He is, in my opinion, the most utterly evil character in the entire show (at his introduction, at least). First of all, he’s a complete jerk. Even after his first “reformation,” he’s still a complete jerk. Between being an all-powerful Eldritch Abomination and being a pure hedonist, everything and everyone else is nothing more than a plaything to him. Despite his chaotic reality-warping causing tremendous distress to everyone around him, he continues to inflict misery on them anyway. He’s also very petty; any slight against him, no matter how minor, is swiftly repaid by him several times over (his response to Fluttershy’s bunny attempting to kick him off a couch, for instance, is to hit and deliberately horrify it).
He’s also a very, very Dirty Old Man. He behaves very creepily around the main characters; special mention goes to the creepy way he strokes Twilight and Fluttershy’s faces. He seems to have a stalkerish infatuation with Fluttershy to the point that he jealously attempts to throw Fluttershy’s guest to the Grand Galloping Galla into another dimension for being chosen over him. In the same episode, he also appears in Spike’s bed and stares at the Cutie Mark Crusaders while they’re in a dressing room (back-to-back, no less). To drive the point home, all of the kids in question are really freaked out when he does.
Lastly, Discord is a genocidal torturer. He cheerfully breaks the main characters’ minds when they first meet him and is shown in one of the stained glass windows to be burning ponies alive with the same sadistic glee. Here it is:
And why wouldn’t he? He’s easily bored, has no empathy whatsoever until Keep Calm and Flutter On, and doesn’t care at all about the well-being of others. It isn’t hard for me to imagine Discord going to any depth of depravity, including this one.
So, I hope that I have satisfactorily demonstrated My Little Pony to be pretty much as dark as you can possibly get. You all might be wondering, why did I do this? Well, simply put, I did this because I want everyone to know how brilliant this show is.
I am honestly quite sick of people dismissing MLP: FiM as shoddy children’s drivel without even watching it. I did this partially as a response to those naysayers; “I’m watching a really excellent show with amazing characters. It’s really dark; there’s cults, rape, murder, and torture in it. You know what show it is? My Little Pony. Yeah, not so stupid and sissy anymore, huh?”
But I also did this to inspire deeper appreciation of the show from my fellow fans. I didn’t write my observations to depress any of you; I wrote them so you could better appreciate how optimistic and hopeful this show is. Think of Avatar: the Last Airbender or Harry Potter as well as My Little Pony; they are all children’s works that adults love, they all have amazing yet flawed characters, they are all audaciously extremely dark (they all have cults, rape, murder, and torture), and they all ultimately deliver messages of peace, friendship, and hope.
As I said in a previous article, I believe that the best works are the darkest yet most hopeful ones. They teach perhaps life’s most valuable lesson: that while no, life’s not fair, and yes, it’s dark and bleak and terrifying, you can still overcome all the odds and find peace and happiness.
Despite the protagonists’ flaws and shortcomings, they are all still good people; they all love and support one another through every trial the world throws at them, no matter how great and horrible it might be. In the world of My Little Pony, the Moral Event Horizon does not exist; despite how utterly despicable Discord is, they still manage after much trial and error to reform him.
That is why My Little Pony is so brilliant; because it’s so overwhelmingly dark, where there is light it is blindingly beautiful.
Here’s to My Little Pony, a show that shows in every way that friendship truly is magic.